It was 90+ degrees of hit-you-in-the-face humidity. I’m standing outside with 15 other women doing yoga. We’re halfway around the world in Bali being asked to finish the statement, “I am ____” with whatever phrase we’ve been told about ourselves. I started running through my words: badass, strong, tall, hardcore, busy… until I landed on it. “Too much.” I am TOO MUCH.
Since I was kid, I was told I was too tall, too skinny, too antsy, too talkative, too much. I realized then that “I am too much” was the same as “I am not enough.” It was just spelled differently. It was a label that had been put on me by family, schoolmates, friends, others. One that would now be labeled “extra,” but never had a positive flair in my younger years.
At the end of class, the same teacher asked us to think of the same phrase and fill in the blank with whatever we WANTED to believe about ourselves. I was reminded of a poem a friend sent me that morning.
“She is free in her wildness,
she is a wanderess,
a drop of free water.
She belongs to no man and to no city.”
– Roman Payne
I went back to my original list of things others had told me – and saw myself so differently, yet the same. “I am wild and free” came to me and I held onto it with all my might. I looked at the phrase, “I am too much” and noticed how “I am wild and free” was a positive spin on the negativity I’d held onto for so long.
Just two years later at big tech summit, I was asked to be one of their opening keynote speakers. My talk was very much business focused – about branding and storytelling. Yet before I got on stage, I reminded myself that I was speaking to humans. And humans don’t compartmentalize their humanity.
As I stood up to speak, I started with this story of me standing in this yoga class in Bali. As I finished the story, I asked them to stand up with me and think of the thing they’ve been told their whole lives – the thing they wanted to stop believing. As they stood before me with their arms at their sides and their eyes closed, I watched them transform from an audience to humans. I asked them to write down their unwanted phrase and then went on with my talk.
It wasn’t until the end of my talk on brand storytelling that I asked them to stand with me again. I asked them to fill in the “I am ___” with something they WANTED to believe about themselves. The thing that they wanted others to know about them. The brand they wanted to become. I saw tears, smiles, and worry. I asked them to write down this new statement and reminded them that they were already what they hoped to be.
“You told us to say what we WANT to believe about ourselves and I started crying.”
My favorite part of speaking is when I’m done. Sure, I love the speaking part – yet I crave the hugs, the conversation, and the big realizations that come afterward – sometimes weeks later. If they don’t FEEL something, I know I haven’t hit my impact mark.
You see, way before I go up on a stage, I have to first think about the impact I want to make on my audience. I have to know how my talk will make them feel something. It has to cause them to think differently, feel the feelings, or grow in a new direction. It’s not my job to “change their lives.” That’s up to them. It’s my job as a speaker to inspire them to make that change. I am not a god. I cannot change them. Only they can do that.
As I got off that big stage and went to the back where I give away inspirational stickers, I was stopped more times than I’ve ever been stopped before. The conference organizers told me later that the conference speaker coach was taking more notes while watching me than they’d ever seen, yet that wasn’t the impact I was looking to make. Sure, it made my ego soar – but what I was really looking for was bigger than that.
As a quiet line formed in front of me, I saw the faces of the humans I was speaking to – many tear-stained. The impact I had focused on making had happened. Not the tears, but the inspired faces.
I heard whispered stories that day of mothers who said, “I am a good mother” at the beginning. And ended with “I am a great mother.” They told me about being in relationships that needed to end. About deciding to believe they were enough. About getting up the gumption to ask for the job they really wanted. About stopping the cycle of negativity. About learning to love their bodies. Men and women alike. All deciding they wanted to change the “brand” they carried with them – in their personal AND professional lives.
I got pulled into conversations the rest of the day about everything under the sun. All from a talk about brand storytelling. Because I was willing to be vulnerable and share myself – my insecurities – with them.
Business isn’t always about business. We speak to humans. We are not gods – we can’t change lives. And yet, it is up to us, as speakers, to provide the space for them to decide what they want to change. It’s up to us to know the impact we want to make – and then go out there and make it.
Are you ready to make them FEEL? I’m ready to help you make your impact.
I’ve created a free training just for you! Check out How To Write A Stage-Worthy Talk In Under 45 Minutes at stageworthytalk.com and get started writing your talk.